If Wishes Were Forces: the Irish Left’s Tartan Turn

Had I been spared the cold granite embrace of Dublin, and deposited instead into the cold granite embrace of Glasgow, I could easily imagine myself voting Yes on September 18th. There are eminently rational grounds for doing so, not the least of which is the sheer mischief of the thing; the noble and democratic impulse to pull the pin, cover your ears, and see who gets smeared across the curtains, without which the progressive imagination is fatally circumscribed.

The desire to escape Tory rule is another valid argument in favour of Yes, although it would be wrong to conflate escape with liberation. Cameron’s government is simply the vestigial muscle-memory of the Thatcher/Blair hydra, shredding and clawing wildly to sate its dimly-remembered appetites, its wizened brains having long since stopped issuing coherent orders.

Retreating to a safe distance beyond its immediate reach is a sensible precaution, albeit one that won’t be achieved through nominal independence. Neither Hadrian’s wall nor all his legions would stand a chance against the latte-sipping barbarians of the 21st century, from whichever direction they attack.

Support for a Yes vote in Scotland has been universal and unstinting amongst the Irish left. This in itself is unsurprising; Ireland is perhaps the only country in western Europe with long-term experience of being administered as a bone fide colony of a world power.

Its socialist movement was inevitably conjoined with nationalism in utero, and has since degenerated towards a kind of indiscriminate poly-chauvinism which regards ethnic and national identity as the wellspring of all political legitimacy. Meanwhile, nominally anti-statist Irish libertarians perceive in Scottish separatism a ripple of the identity-based transatlantic currents which have swept them off their feet in recent years.

The prospect of Scottish independence appeals, not only to these sensibilities, but also to keenly-felt pan-Celticist ties of blood and soil. The sight of Scotland taking her place among the nations of the earth (to quote the early 19th-century hero of Irish nationalism, Robert Emmet) gladdens the heart of the national progressive, precisely because it offers a return to a politics of belonging which has long been outpaced by events and outflanked from the right in the miserable, beleaguered Republic.

For years, the re-integration of the national territory served as both means and end for the lonely kindlers of the socialist flame in post-partition Ireland. Although the vision was never elucidated in detail, enosis with the British-administered corner of the island was regarded as a panacaea for the corrupting of Ireland’s revolutionary ideals; in order to be truly socialist, it was necessary to be truly Irish, and vice versa.

This uniquely recursive brand of stagism, proceeding from the nation-state through socialism and back to the nation-state, has seen its lustre dulled in recent years. Nowhere in Europe is class war waged with more gleeful impunity from above than in the Republic, and the rationale offered by its kleptocratic regime (via the most brazenly compliant media apparatus in any liberal European democracy) is one of perverted national unity.

Sinn Féin, by virtue of effective though entirely rhetorical parliamentary opposition in the south, has snatched up the slender threads of the Irish left’s residual romantic nationalism. At the next Irish election, Sinn Féin’s momentum will carry much of the left in its train.

Even as the party openly solicits coalition with the right, it will attract the support of socialists voting, as they now urge Scots to vote, “without illusions” in the outcome (of course, the illusion of acting without illusion is itself the supreme illusion, and right up there with the Jesuit doctrine of “mental reservation” as willful evasions go).

But few truly believe in Sinn Féin’s pink-tinged national progressivism as a viable agent of change, and the party’s self-serving mendacity in Northern Ireland, where it governs in coalition with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party, has not gone unnoticed in the south.

Supporters dismiss Sinn Féin NI’s craven implementation of Tory austerity as a mere vagary of Northern Ireland’s confessional parliamentary system, echoing precisely the not-us-guv protestations of Labour Party members across the border.

But even Northern nationalists now vote Sinn Féin largely to evade the jackboot of Orange supremacism under which their parents and grandparents suffered, rather than in genuine hope of social or economic deliverance.

Thus, an independent Scotland is seen through a haze of prelapsarian Celtic sentiment from across the Irish Sea, as a misty reflection of a time when a leftist could march erect and moist-eyed beneath the billowing tricolour, without caveat or proviso, and know that it was good.

Incidentally, before we venture any further into the leftist ghetto, it’s worth noting that the majority of the Republic’s population, wholly won over to neoliberalism, labour under no such reservations.

They too support Scottish independence, but their nationalism is of a different order, entirely delimited by the borders of the Republic and viciously exclusionary (of the poor, the dole scrounger, the malcontent, the uppity immigrant or Traveller).

Ireland may not have inherited the caste-based social hierarchy of Great Britain, but a century of unfettered rule by a tiny economic elite has cultivated a middle class as virulently reactionary as any in the world.

One of the key figures in Irish socialist mythology was, neatly enough, himself a Scot. James Connolly’s exploits are familiar to most. In Ireland, his fiercely rotund face (surmounting a thick and unmistakeably revolutionary neck) occupies the place reserved for Che Guveara in most leftist iconography.

Connolly is the perfectly protean proletarian icon. His strident rhetorical internationalism assuages his equally strident, and ultimately fatal, Irish nationalism. A master of dialectical obfuscation, Connolly attempted to reconcile militant industrial Marxism with nationalist idealism (his movement’s, as much as his own; the constitution of Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army proclaimed its wish to sink all difference of birth, property and creed under the name of the common Irish people).

Armed with a pithily emphatic quote from Connolly’s playbook, a left-nationalist need fear no embarrassment. His person embodies the inextricable trinity of state, nation and class. SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, whose collaborationist leadership would put any British union to shame, recycles his image constantly, and his authority is invoked even by Ireland’s ultra-Thatcherite Labour Party. The message of such idolatry is clear; class solidarity must give way to class sacrifice in order to preserve the nation, just as it did under Connolly’s leadership a century ago.

Is this lamentable state of affairs likely to be replicated in an independent Scotland? Probably not, and not merely because the referendum will be defeated, as now seems certain. For a start, it’s no longer 1920. The Scottish electorate has been painfully and extensively schooled in the realities of parliamentary betrayal. The era of the national saviour is past (not that Alex Salmond would have fooled the most credulous nationalist in any era).

But what do Scots have to fear from the SNP, under whose watch the very worst of Westminster austerity has been rebuffed? Here, the Irish example is instructive, and not simply because of the SNP’s avowed intention to replicate the Irish template of a low-corporation-tax virtual economy.

100 years ago, the moderate leadership of Ireland’s nationalist movement, supported by its small native capitalist clique, sought merely Home Rule, and the power to forge a national economy which served its own ends (just as more extensive devolution was the true prize for the SNP).

As in Scotland, it was popular pressure from below and a vision of a different society that forced the moderates towards a complete rupture with the UK. When the revolutionary fervour subsided and the final embers of radicalism had been stamped out, the Irish working class awoke to the sickening reality that it had carved its own gallows. That a state is a state is a state; a vehicle for expropriating public wealth for private gain via the path of least resistance.

The optimal result on the 18th is the one that will almost certainly transpire; a narrow No vote, after a lengthy and fervent debate which has re-awakened the concept of popular sovereignty. Not because the United Kingdom is worth preserving (regardless of the reheated Union-Jacketed tripe served up by the Guardian and David Bowie); the UK is an inherently imperialist and confiscatory national concept, just as Germany is an inherently authoritarian one.

But because the question of who governs whom and on whose behalf is one that cannot be resolved within another piratical fiefdom of finance capital, nestling in the shadow of Fortress Europe. Because these seeds of democratic renewal deserve a chance to ripen and blossom in riotous number, not to be scattered on stony soil.

Yes to popular sovereignty. Yes to crushing the Tories. Yes to democratic accountability. Yes to the elementary humanity of a public health system.

Yes is the right answer, awaiting the right question. Another client state to the empire of capital isn’t it.

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2 Responses to “If Wishes Were Forces: the Irish Left’s Tartan Turn”

  1. BampotsUtd.wordpress.com Says:

    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  2. shea Says:

    sotrmount is on the verge of collapse because one party won’t implement ‘tory cuts’

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